Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Wealth of Networks

Making the Wealth of Networks visible...

[JW note: With interest surrounding two recent seminal studies- both with the title "Wealth of Networks"- by Yochai Benkler (a social theory approach, published in May 2006 by Yale University Press) and Tom Vest (an economics of networks approach, still in pre-publication form), we may identify a current conjuncture of understanding regarding the changing nature of production in the digital networked world.

A Digital C21st updating for Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations?

These two exercises in theorisation of "the wealth of networks" will likely form a fulcrum of progressive debate for some time.

Future wealth and creativity in the networked world lies in open and collaborative networks, both technologically and socially speaking. However we inhabit a contested terrain, as legacy and emergent interests enact the real "digital divide" that exists between open and closed systems.]


Yochai Benkler | The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom

Amazon details here

Publisher: Yale University Press (May 15, 2006)

Book Description:

With the radical changes in information production that the Internet has introduced, we stand at an important moment of transition, says Yochai Benkler in this thought-provoking book. The phenomenon he describes as social production is reshaping markets, while at the same time offering new opportunities to enhance individual freedom, cultural diversity, political discourse, and justice. But these results are by no means inevitable: a systematic campaign to protect the entrenched industrial information economy of the last century threatens the promise of today’s emerging networked information environment.

In this comprehensive social theory of the Internet and the networked information economy, Benkler describes how patterns of information, knowledge, and cultural production are changing—and shows that the way information and knowledge are made available can either limit or enlarge the ways people can create and express themselves. He describes the range of legal and policy choices that confront us and maintains that there is much to be gained—or lost—by the decisions we make today.


Lawrence Lessig: "In this book, Benkler establishes himself as the leading intellectual of the information age. Profoundly rich in its insight and truth, this work will be the central text for understanding how networks have changed how we understand the world. No work to date has more carefully or convincingly made the case for a fundamental change in how we understand the economy of society."-Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School

Download pdf's of The Wealth of Networks here

Wealth of Networks WikiNotes here

"In the networked information economy, the physical capital required for production is broadly distributed throughout society. Personal computers and network connections are ubiquitous. This does not mean that they cannot be used for markets, or that individuals cease to seek market opportunities. It does mean, however, that whenever someone, somewhere, among the billion connected human beings, and ultimately among all those who will be connected, wants to make something that requires human creativity, a computer, and a network connection, he or she can do so—alone, or in cooperation with others. He or she already has the capital capacity necessary to do so; if not alone, then at least in cooperation with other individuals acting for complementary reasons. The result is that a good deal more that human beings value can now be done by individuals, who interact with each other socially, as human beings and as social beings, rather than as market actors through the price system. Sometimes, under conditions I specify in some detail, these nonmarket collaborations can be better at motivating effort and can allow creative people to work on information projects more efficiently than would traditional market mechanisms and corporations. The result is a flourishing nonmarket sector of information, knowledge, and cultural production, based in the networked environment, and applied to anything that the many individuals connected to it can imagine. Its outputs, in turn, are not treated as exclusive property. They are instead subject to an increasingly robust ethic of open sharing, open for all others to build on, extend, and make their own". (Excerpt from Chapt 1, pp. 6,7: pdf download here)

[JW note: I attended the Budapest RE:activism conference here in Oct 2005, where Benkler provided a keynote on "The Political Economy of Peer Production Networks" - see here. Ufortunately I missed Benkler's early morning spot because I was doing last-minute prep for my presentation in the succeeding session "State Intervention and Regulatory Issues in the Information Age" here (-in which I presented a case study of a networked approach to policy intervention), but I did join in the later plenary debate on Peer Production Networks. See audio archive of the RE:activism conference here]

See also:

Yochai Benkler | Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm

"I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production" (...)

Abstract: here
Full text: pdf here


The COOK Report on Internet is currently framing debate on Tom Vest's Wealth of Networks:

[JW note: The COOK Report is itself a demonstration of the process of creative production via peer networks: as a peer network engages in a real-time, global discussion list, followed by expert analysis and publication by list host and veteran Net analyst Gordon Cook (-"the oldest continuously owned and published technology policy newsletter on the Internet having started 15 years ago in March 1992")]


The COOK Report on Internet, May 2006: here

Introducing Tom Vest's Wealth of Networks as First Step Toward an Empirical Discipline of Network Economics

"We Explore Vest's Synthesis of the Global Internet as an Interlocked Honey Comb of Local Ecologies Where Network Operational Data May Be Studied over Time against a Backdrop of Changing Governmental Policies to Determine Economic Outcomes

(...) "As the repercussions of The Earth is Flat continue to unfold, we all understand that this Internet "thing" has importance to local economies. The problem is that we lack any common framework to evaluate how policy and operational changes at the regional or national affect the ability of IP networks to generate economic activity. Vest's work does just this as it presents a set of concepts that can be applied to internet datasets overtime and in so doing devloped an understanding of why some internet policies appear to generate economic growth while in similar areas of the globe different policies lead to stagnation.

"In the fifteen years that I have been immersed in writing about the internet I have never seen any framework or any description that puts the immense complexity of the global internet into any kind comprehensible focus. Until, that is, I plunged into Tom's work. The have been three seminal works in the past quarter century in this field. The end-to-end paper of reed Clarke and Saltzer in 1983. Isenberg's Stupid Network of 1997 and Vest's Wealth of Networks of 2006. I will stick my neck out and say now that Vest's work is the most important thing I have ever written about.

Source here
See Vest's Wealth of Networks website here

See my related post: The Social Life of Information here

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